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“They are using their power to destroy their number one political enemy. They are trying to crush him,” said Matt Schlapp, a Trump-world confidant and chair of the American Conservative Union, who warned of an era of overly-political prosecutions targeting prominent politicians. “And will there be reverberations from that that will benefit Trump from that, absolutely.”

The latest sign of Trump’s growing legal woes arrived this week, when reports broke that a special grand jury in Manhattan had convened to decide whether or not to indict the former president or executives at the Trump Organization over business and tax practices and the management of his international real estate portfolio. Privately, Trump and those close to him conceded that they are nervous about Manhattan district attorney Cy Vance reaching the culmination of his investigation. But publicly, they expect the former president to use his legal plight to gin up support from his base of supporters — and fuel chatter about a 2024 run.

“It’s the same kind of shit playbook — counter response, blame, attack the investigators, say ‘I did nothing wrong, I’m a businessman,’ you’ll hear that one a lot,” said one former adviser.

In a statement following news of the grand jury, Trump immediately proclaimed the investigation to be a “witch hunt,” accused it of being politically motivated and tried to hitch news of the grand jury to his plans to restart rallies and the release of a poll showing Republican support for another presidential run. To even the non-MAGA Republicans, it seemed predictable, cynical and likely effective.

“Trump has turned being a victim into an art form, and there’s no doubt he’d use an indictment as fuel to rally support,” said Brendan Buck, former aide to then-House Speaker Paul Ryan. “He’s convinced his supporters that the only crime he’s ever committed is fighting for them on behalf of elites, and when people believe that, you’re basically bulletproof.”

Trump and allies are anticipating the very real possibility that he or his business partners could be indicted. And one of the main reasons Trump is spooked is that Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer who knew the ins and outs of the company’s accounting books, has emerged as a central figure for the New York prosecutors and according to reports, has been pressured to flip against his boss.

Yet barring any significant new findings, people around Trump do not expect the investigation to have a negative impact on his immediate political future. Trump has been telling friends and aides he seriously plans to run again in 2024, and his team suspects that the legal drama may actually help him with Republican voters.

“At this point in the years-long Witch Hunt, Republican voters are numb to the continual partisan attacks,” said a person close to Trump. “If anything, these legal attacks help solidify the president’s political base.”

Allies of Trump have focused their ire on Letitia James, specifically. The New York attorney general campaigned on a promise to investigate Trump, whom she called an “illegitimate president.” And both Trump and his allies have lashed out at her, accusing her of abusing her office by predetermining investigative subjects.

“The Attorney General of New York literally campaigned on prosecuting Donald Trump even before she knew anything about me,” Trump said in one of his longer post-White House statements. “That is what these investigations are all about—a continuation of the greatest political Witch Hunt in the history of the United States. Working in conjunction with Washington, these Democrats want to silence and cancel millions of voters because they don’t want “Trump” to run again.”

People close to Trump say his recent musings to run in 2024 started before grand jury news. While Trump remains a powerful figure in the party, he misses the trappings and power of the White House, they say, especially following a sleepier spring among fellow retirees in Palm Beach, Florida.

“When he came down the escalator, the left went after him from the Russia hoax to impeachment, now we are still seeing it in New York City,” said former chief of staff Mark Meadows on Fox News. “The American people want him to run, and I believe he will run.”

In the lead up to the 2020 election, Trump used a similar argument to dismiss the legal and political investigations into him at that time. He denounced special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and his subsequent first impeachment as witch hunts and partisan congressional overreach. He demanded that lawmakers “investigate the investigators” and claimed he was the subject of a “Russia hoax.”

He also spoke about the legal benefits that he believed came with occupying office; that he was largely inoculated from prosecution and indictment so long as he served. That could very well compel him to seek office again, though advisers say that’s not his current thinking, and legal experts argue that he can’t escape state-based investigations by running for federal office. Instead, those who have followed Trump’s career closely believe he will use his current dilemma to gin up sympathy and anger among his legion of followers.

“One of the things that’s undoubtedly going to frustrate him about the two criminal investigations is he has very little direct leverage. He’s decamped from New York, he’s a resident of Florida, he’s widely loathed in New York City, and does not have popular support, and he doesn’t have any of the political or legal leverage to disrupt those investigations the way he disrupted Mueller,” said Tim O’Brien, Trump biographer and critic of the former president. “But the thing he did in the Mueller case is he went right to his supporters and the public and said this is a witch hunt.”

“He is well aware that his greatest traction is with his enthusiastic supporters, and I think he’ll go to them as a force to be reckoned with when anyone tries to put him under the whip.”

With reporting by Sam Stein

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Guinea declares end to latest Ebola outbreak

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“I commend the affected communities, the government and people of Guinea, health workers, partners and everyone else whose dedicated efforts made it possible to contain this Ebola outbreak,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“Based on the lessons learned from the 2014–16 outbreak and through rapid, coordinated response efforts, community engagement, effective public health measures and the equitable use of vaccines, Guinea managed to control the outbreak and prevent its spread beyond its borders.” The U.N. said it will continue to provide post-illness care.

The CDC welcomed the news in a statement.

“I commend the government and first responders in Guinea for ending the country’s Ebola outbreak,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “Our heartfelt sympathies are with the people who lost loved ones to this disease. CDC remains committed to supporting survivor programs and helping strengthen global preparedness and response capacities that can prevent or extinguish future Ebola outbreaks.”

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Hard-line judiciary head wins Iran presidency amid low turnout

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In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal Orf, the head of Iran’s Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race’s fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.

Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday.

“I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote.

On Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part in the vote.

“God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems,” Rezaei wrote.

The quick concessions, while not unusual in Iran’s previous elections, signaled what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for hours: That the carefully controlled vote had been a blowout win for Raisi amid the boycott calls.

As night fell Friday, turnout appeared far lower than in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite cleric played soccer with a young boy as most of its workers napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country — as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past elections.

Balloting came to a close at 2.a.m. Saturday, after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called “crowding” at several polling places nationwide. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.

“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.

But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

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Apathy greets Iran presidential vote dominated by hard-liner

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“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders and the lower participation in Western democracies. But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord. Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also blocked from running, said on social media he’d boycott the vote.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

Khamenei cast the first vote from Tehran, urging the public to “go ahead, choose and vote.”

Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, voted from a mosque in southern Tehran. The cleric acknowledged in comments afterward that some may be “so upset that they don’t want to vote.”

“I beg everyone, the lovely youths, and all Iranian men and women speaking in any accent or language from any region and with any political views, to go and vote and cast their ballots,” Raisi said.

But few appeared to heed the call. There are more than 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a nation of over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has estimated a turnout will be just 44%, which would be the lowest since the revolution. Officials gave no turnout figures Friday, though results could come Saturday.

Fears about a low turnout have some warning Iran may be turning away from being an Islamic Republic — a government with elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader from its Shiite clergy — to a country more tightly governed by its supreme leader, who already has final say on all matters of state and oversees its defense and atomic program.

“This is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who sought to change the theocracy from the inside during eight years in office. “How would this conform to being a republic or Islamic?”

For his part, Khamenei warned of “foreign plots” seeking to depress turnout in a speech Wednesday. A flyer handed out on the streets of Tehran by hard-liners echoed that and bore the image of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020. A polling station was set up by Soleimani’s grave on Friday.

Some voters appeared to echo that call.

“We cannot leave our destiny in the hands of foreigners and let them decide for us and create conditions that will be absolutely harmful for us,” said Tehran voter Shahla Pazouki.

Also hurting a moderate like Hemmati is the public anger aimed at Rouhani over the collapse of the deal, despite ongoing talks in Vienna to revive it. Iran’s already-ailing economy has suffered since, with double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.

“It is useless,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed resident in southern Tehran, about voting. “Anyone who wins the election after some time says he cannot solve problem of the economy because of intervention by influential people. He then forgets his promises and we poor people again remain disappointed.”

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